Treasurer's race: Asbestos firm that seeks to represent victims of Chemetco pollution gives big to candidate whose husband was company's operations director

By The Madison County Record | Oct 22, 2014

Candidate for Madison County Treasurer Marleen Suarez has denied being involved “in any way” with former copper smelter Chemetco, one of the worst air and water polluters ever located in the heavily industrialized county.

Her husband Dan Suarez, however, was director of operations at Chemetco in Hartford for its owner and his cousin, John Suarez.

So far, Suarez’s denial of any connection to Chemetco apparently satisfies her biggest backers.

The lung disease firm of John Simmons, who advertises his success in representing victims of Chemetco pollution, gave $10,000 to her campaign in September.

The Madison County Good Government Team gave her $15,000 on Oct. 3, three days after it received $40,000 from lung disease lawyers Randy Gori and Barry Julian.

She also received $5,000 on Oct. 21 from the Belleville personal injury firm Keefe and Keefe.

Marleen Suarez, a Democrat, is running against incumbent Kurt Prenzler, a Republican.

The race has been highly contentious - with each side slinging allegations of fraud and misconduct.

Suarez has called for Prenzler to resign saying he “illegally” allowed a single tax parcel sale to take place before the 2013 public auction. She said the sale benefited friends and political allies, attorneys Don Weber and James Craney, while “subverting” the competitive bidding process, “which Mr. Prenzler has made his central accomplishment and campaign point in office,” she said.

Prenzler was first elected in 2010, succeeding Democrat Frank Miles who served as Treasurer by appointment following the resignation of Democrat Fred Bathon in 2009. Prenzler had alerted authorities to Bathon’s tax sale practices, pointing to inflated interest rates charged to distressed property owners. A federal investigation ensued and in February 2013, Bathon pleaded guilty to rigging tax sales between 2005 and 2008, in a scheme so pervasive, that nearly every property tax lien sold was sold at the statutory maximum interest rate – 18 percent. Under the scheme, tax buyers, who provided Bathon with campaign contributions, did not submit competitive bids to lower rates for distressed property owners.

Craney purchased the delinquent tax owed for property jointly owned by Weber and his ex-wife Virginia Weber with zero interest to begin the public auction on Feb. 19, 2013. The Edwardsville property is occupied by Virginia Weber.

Prenzler denies that the sale was improper.

He further said that he and a deputy treasurer met twice with assistant state’s attorney John McGuire to discuss the procedure and that McGuire did not advise against the practice.

Madison County State’s Attorney Tom Gibbons told the Belleville News-Democrat that he “took issue” with Prenzler’s statement that his office condoned the single parcel sale.

Recent testimony in a consolidated class action case brought by distressed Madison County home owners involving the bid rigging scheme, indicates that McGuire did not advise that the single parcel sale was illegal, and nor did he advise that it was "proper."

During McGuire’s deposition taken Oct. 15, he was asked by Weber, one of the attorneys representing the class of distressed property owners, “Did you tell Kurt Prenzler - Treasurer Kurt Prenzler that the sale of single parcels at zero percent was proper?”

“No,” McGuire responded.

“Ever?” asked Weber.

“No,” McGuire said.

“What did you tell him about this transaction?” asked Weber.

"...I told Mr. Prenzler that I didn't see anything in the - stated in the statute that specifically prohibited it, but I didn't see anything in the statute that specifically allowed it and that if I was him, I would not do it, whereupon he responded something like no, I agree, it's not worth it."

After Suarez accused Prenzler of misconduct over the single parcel sale and called for his resignation, Prenzler fired back calling Suarez a “Chemetco insider” who profited from the company when it was in bankruptcy.

Chemetco filed a bankruptcy petition in 2001, after federal regulators filed a pollution suit.
Trustee Laura Grandy (who is now bankruptcy judge) filed adversary proceedings against 30 individuals and businesses in 2003, to recover fraudulent transfers, preferential transfers, and illegal profits.

Grandy alleged that Chemetco improperly transferred $89,595.99 to Dan and Marleen Suarez.

“The transfers were made without consideration and without receiving a reasonably equivalent value in exchange for said transfers,” Grandy wrote.

Grandy sought to recover $201,264.56 from B. Garcia Trucking Inc., a business Dan Suarez owned.

She alleged that Chemetco paid $7,570 to cover personal debts Dan owed to a lawn care company and a person named Bob Lotz.

Grandy separately sought to recover about $7 million that passed from Chemetco to PAR Transportation, a business John Suarez owned.

She identified Dan Suarez as an officer and director of PAR Transportation.

As Grandy learned more, she disputed that Chemetco was insolvent.

In 2005, she informed the court that several former Chemetco employees asserted Fifth Amendment privilege against self incrimination.

All parties then settled.

Dan Suarez agreed to pay $110,603 to settle claims against himself, his trucking company, the lawn care company, and Lotz.

Grandy agreed to dismiss the complaint against Marleen.

PAR Transportation consented to a judgment of $2,044,851.21.

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